Do Movies Still Have The Power To Change Our Lives?

the-mistI’m going to make a couple assumptions here. First, that you have seen or don’t care about the ending of The Mist. It’s just those last few minutes of the movie to which I’ll be referring, so if you don’t care about the ending and still want to read on, you may want to catch up with a review of the movie. Second, I’m assuming that at one point it was expected that watching a movie could change your perspective on life and that generally speaking, those days are long behind us.

I suppose I’m making a third assumption as well- that you’d believe I hold myself to be a fairly pragmatic person. It may seem there’s a plethora of evidence on this site to the contrary, but my normal course of business is to rely more on logic and reason than emotions. And in situations where the shit has hit the fan, I’d think I’d stay calm and logical without letting dire circumstances rattle me too much.

So if you couldn’t tell, I recently watched The Mist. This in itself was a big deal, since the movie is based on a Stephen King story. Up until The Dark Tower, I was a devoted Constant Reader, but I took deep and serious offense to the afterword of that book and vowed never again to read another thing penned by Stephen King or Richard Bachman. It’s not something I did lightly, having read and currently owning nearly every book he’d written up to that point. I may get into that in another post, but know that I had to consciously make an affirmative decision to watch the movie, I wouldn’t have just happened upon it on HBO and started watching it. And due to the degree I despise Stephen King, I had a bad taste in my mouth before the movie started.

Up to the end, the movie was okay. It was when the small group of people who refused to turn to the religious doom-and-gloom drove out into the mist that I noticed there was still 15 minutes of runtime left, meaning the movie wasn’t going to end like the book. Rather than leave the people hanging in the mist, there was too much time left for something not to happen. When the Landcruiser ran out of gas, my interest perked up. I knew as well as the characters that walking around in the mist meant certain death. They were okay in the confines of the vehicle, but outside they were toast.

Then David started counting the bullets left in the gun, and I really got interested. Whether a movie ends up or down, it seems almost universal that the characters always maintain some sort of positive outlook. No matter the odds, it’s rare to see the main character give up all hope. But when all the people in the Landcruiser shared a glance, you knew the decision they’d all accepted: a bullet in the head was preferable to being eaten alive by whatever nasty creature finds them first. No matter what they chose, death would be the result.

Putting myself in that situation, suicide seems like a very reasonable decision. They could drive no further. There was no refuge within sight. Hungry monsters certainly awaited all around them. They’d gambled and lost and having left the (relative) safety of the grocery store, they were basically living on borrowed time. Everyone accepted it, and I really appreciated that the characters were able to resign themselves to the decision without getting all emotional.

But I still didn’t think it’d happen. It’s just not the way movies end. Characters don’t give up and make a reasonable decision to kill themselves. They may sacrifice their lives, but it’s in a effort to survive. So I was absolutely shocked when David shot everyone, especially his son. Totally floored. I didn’t think the filmmakers, or more likely the studio, would let allow the characters to follow through. Imply it, sure, but actually do it? It was certainly a sad decision, but I felt the right one.

Then when David got out of the truck (lacking a bullet for himself), I expected something to jump out and rip him apart, validating the decision that killing themselves was the only decent choice left. Then what rumbles forth from the mist: a tank. And soldiers. And the mist starts to clear. And everything maybe be alright. And David starts screaming.

That’s when I started to question my own philosophy and wonder if trying to think rationally and logically about every situation is the right course of action. Is it better to make the best decision based on the evidence available, or should you never give up hope, no matter how futile it seems?

Honestly, this movie made me reevaluate the way I think I’d think in that situation. Maybe it’s better to never give up hope. Staying put, the characters in The Mist faced death by dehydration and/or starvation. Outside the truck they would be dead within minutes. But if they’d held onto the tiniest shred of hope and sat there with their fingers crossed, rescue would have been there in minutes.

The mist dissipating soon after David shot everyone may seem a bit obvious, but I was so in tune to the characters’ line of thought that it caught me by total surprise. And because of this otherwise unremarkable movie, my life is changed. In that situation, at minimum I’d really struggle to make that decision. But maybe I’d hold onto hope and resolve to never give up. I look at movies with such a jaded eye anymore that I never really expected one would be able to reach me in this way, make me take a deep look inside myself and ask if there’s something I should do differently. If I was really the person that I wanted to be.

Maybe movies aren’t as heartless and empty as I thought. Maybe they do mean more than money. Maybe they still can do some good in the world.

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